Could You Run a Marathon This Afternoon (And Would It Bother You If You Couldn't?)
I was talking to a prospective client this week and he was sharing details of his last job where he'd felt under incredible pressure to deliver against what looked to him like impossible targets.
For some reason the analogy came to mind that it would be like me being asked to run a marathon this afternoon and to complete it in less than two hours. Well, that would look like a ridiculous ask; the sheer impossibility of it would be self-evident.
Now, in theory, I might get anxious and worry about failing, but the task sounds so ludicrous that I'd more than likely choose a different response:
I might say "Thanks, but no thanks!"
I might decide to go for it, have fun and see how far I got.
I might decide to look at it creatively and ask if I could cycle the course instead of running. Or be at one of the support tents, some other way to join in that was within my abilities and felt like fun for me.
You see, as soon as I can laugh about it, and not feel under any obligation to achieve the goal, then I release any and all pressure. It's the pressure that creates the anxiety—not the task itself.
It's easy to see this in the marathon example but perhaps there are examples in your life where it's more difficult to see?
That was certainly the case for my client. He was in a situation where there was no way to 'finish' and he'd been hoodwinked, innocently, into believing it meant something about him, rather than something about the situation as it presented itself.
Failure of Mind
In a recent conversation about burnout and an interview with my friend and colleague, Lisa Swanson, we’d touched on some of these same topics.
Relating to the marathon story, the more it looks as if we are somehow failing in this impossible task, the more we are likely to experience what many people call burnout.
Whereas when we see that we are doing the best we can, and whether we complete the race, or we don't doesn't mean anything at all about us, well, somehow the situation appears less stressful and therefore we both perform at our best, and are able to stay closer to our natural state of well-being.
If you’re interested, and want to hear more, head over and listen in to the longer conversation.